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Kathleen Hanna is a little bit country, a little bit rock 'n' roll

By Jennifer Vineyard, Special to CNN
updated 3:15 PM EDT, Fri September 6, 2013
Kathleen Hanna with husband Adam Horovitz of the Beastie Boys, left, and director Matt Wolf at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival.
Kathleen Hanna with husband Adam Horovitz of the Beastie Boys, left, and director Matt Wolf at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Hanna is in remission from late-stage Lyme disease
  • She's back with a new album and new band
  • Hanna says she loves to do country music

(CNN) -- Kathleen Hanna isn't Wonder Woman.

Despite her iconic status as a "famous feminist" -- as one of the leaders of the '90s riot grrrl movement from her days in Bikini Kill -- she is also human.

And when her body started failing her, she realized she couldn't do it all, which is why she called a hiatus for her band Le Tigre six years ago.

It took a long time for Hanna to get a correct diagnosis -- late-stage Lyme disease, after being told alternately that she had Crohn's disease, MS, lupus and degenerative arthritis -- and proper treatment, and until she knew what was going on, she didn't want to disclose it to the world.

"I didn't want to do press and say I was sick!" Hanna said. " 'Hey, everybody, I have to leave; I'm sick!' "

Now in remission, she's back full force, with a new band (the Julie Ruin), a new album ("Run Fast," out this week), a tour, a documentary ("The Punk Singer," out this fall), an archive at NYU and more.

"Is everyone like, 'Shut this woman up!'?" Hanna said with a laugh at the thought of being overexposed after years of silence.

"I wanted to archive my work to make sure it lasted longer than I did," she said. "And I still have some struggles with my health. It's always like, 'I don't know if I'll be able to show up at your thing.' 'I don't know if I'll be able to go to the premiere of the movie about me.' But I was.

Hanna has been able to keep up with the rigors of her schedule. And for that, she said, "I'm just so thankful, because I have stuff I want to do, you know? I just want to enjoy my life! And now I can move on and do whatever I want now."

Part of Hanna's recent overload of activity stems from her facing her own limitations, her legacy and her mortality, because there was a period of time where she was forced to consider the possibility that she might not be able to sing for a living anymore.

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Some of the alternate careers she considered were interior design (she took classes at Parsons), visual art, scripting comedy and, strangely enough, writing country songs. But just because Plan B didn't turn out to be necessary doesn't mean Hanna is abandoning all her new avenues.

"I would love to make a bunch of country demos and write country songs for really great country singers," Hanna said, noting that she grew up listening to country music. She counts George Jones, Randy Travis, Dolly Parton, Patsy Cline and Miranda Lambert among her favorites.

"I'm really annoyed by the wave of country music that's just a list of stuff," she said. "It almost sounds like L.A. people writing country music, because it's just a list of stuff: 'My pickup truck and my cowboy boots and my Levi's jeans and my girlfriend with the short shorts.' It's so boring!"

Her country songs, Hanna said, would either be abstract or have "narratives that do something weird and interesting," such as "He Stopped Loving Her Today" and "In Color," two of the country songs she's been studying.

"If I can't sing them myself, there's nothing better than writing songs for other people and watching them be performed," she added. "It's kind of more thrilling than doing it yourself."

Although Hanna drives her husband, Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz, crazy "by listening to the country station in the car all the time," as a joke they wrote an ironic country song together called "Don't F*** with My Truck."

"It's the most offensively sexist song," she laughed. "One of the verses is really sexist, and the verses are about different forms of violence. And it will be released by someone with a name like mine that isn't mine, under a fake name."

Hanna and Horovitz have also collaborated on a television comedy series that they wrote called "Bridget Drives a Bus," based on the alt-cabaret show by Bridget Everett. The plot centers around a "bus driver in New Jersey who wants to move to Manhattan and become a huge star, and she gets in wacky hijinks," she said. "It's kind of how you imagine New York is before you moved here, and then you move here, and you're disillusioned."

Hanna's mapped out the first three seasons and is working on the pilot with a production company. If the pilot isn't picked up, she plans to try to make it as a movie because, she said, she so strongly believes in the script and the character.

Don't expect that movie, however, to have a stereotypical girl power moment. Hanna suggested updating the Bechdel test, which groups films according to whether they have scenes featuring two or more women talking about something other than a man.

"I feel like the real test should be whether or not two or more female characters who are singing into a hairbrush or a spoon with frosting on it, singing an Aretha Franklin song such as 'Respect,' " she said. "There should be a wooden spoon test, because those faux-feminist scenes are despicable! It's like those white-people-save-the-day movies, like what was that Sandra Bullock movie? 'The Blind Side'? How many more of those do we need? I can't believe this movie exists."

Hanna isn't too concerned that a Wonder Woman movie doesn't exist, either. "I don't find her that redeeming," she said. "I'm not that interested in female superheroes."

Hanna does have a suggestion in lieu of the Amazon for Hollywood to take on: "Martha Washington Goes to War," her favorite cyberpunk superhero. "And the more action movies that have strong females, the better."

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